To preview the Sunday Night Football matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles, Brandon Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation joined me to answer a few questions about the game. In what might be a surprise, he actually picks the Eagles to lose this game.
Here are the questions and responses:
So, the Eagles were dead and buried just a couple of weeks ago. What has happened to undo that? Are the last two wins fools gold or is Philly ready to roll and take the terrible NFC East?
It's really crazy how the Eagles got to this point. After losing to the Buccaneers and Lions like that, it definitely seemed like the season was over. The Patriots were supposed to drop the Eagles to 4-8 and kill any hope remaining. But that didn't happen. Thanks to strong performances from their defense and special teams, the Eagles beat New England. Those units played well again last week against Buffalo, with the offense also showing some signs of progress.
I wouldn't say the last two wins are fools good because the Eagles defense has been solid all year. The Bucs and Lions games were uncharacteristically bad performances. I do think the Eagles have a legitimate shot to win the NFC East because all they have to do is beat Washington and the Giants. The Washington game is set to take place in Philly. The Giants game is on the road but Chip Kelly has always fared well against New York in his tenure.
So, is Sam Bradford the answer? Or do you see a new starter in 2016? why? what has he done well/not so well this season?
Bradford has shown improvement in recent weeks. He's completed 80 of 123 attempts (65.0%) for 898 yards (7.3 avg), five touchdowns, one interception, and a 96.9 passer rating in his last four starts. The Eagles are 5-1 in the last six games he's started and finished, with the one loss coming against the undefeated Panthers.
With that said, I'm not ready to say he's the long-term answer just yet. He still ranks 27th in passer rating, 28th in yards per attempt, 25th in touchdown passes. Chip Kelly told reporters the Eagles wouldn't have traded for Bradford if they thought they'd only have him for this season, so I do expect him back. Kelly also talked about the importance of a quarterback having continuity in a team's scheme, which is a fair point.
Earlier in the season, Bradford really struggled with accuracy. He was throwing passes to wide open defenders instead of wide open receivers. He's shown some progress in that area since then. He threw a lot of good passes against Buffalo's defense last week. The Eagles believe Bradford's accuracy is one of his biggest strengths. I can see why they think that based on how he looked in practices and preseason games in the summer, but it hasn't always consistently showed up in games.
Matchups: Which ones favor the Eagles and which favor Arizona?
Tough question. I look at this Cardinals team and I don't see a lot of weaknesses. As you highlighted, I think the biggest one is Fletcher Cox versus Arizona's interior offensive line. Cox has been playing at a high level all season long, but he's been especially good in the last two weeks. The 25-year-old defensive end is a nightmare to block. He's so disruptive. Even if Cox isn't getting sacks, he's often drawing extra attention and freeing up opportunities for his teammates such as Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin, and Vinny Curry. Carson Palmer has been so good this year and Arizona's wide receivers are really dangerous. The Eagles will hope to mitigate them by getting pressure. If not, it could be a long day for Philadelphia's secondary. Larry Fitzgerald is always bound to go off on the Eagles. He has 802 yards and 11 touchdowns on 47 receptions against Philly in seven career appearances.
Basically no team has been able to stop the Arizona offense so far this season. Make the case as to why the Eagles can or cannot.
The Eagles probably won't be able to stop the Arizona offense. Like you said, no one has been able to stop them all year. They might be able to contain them. Aside from those two terrible performances against the Bucs and Lions, Philadelphia's defense has been the strength of this team. The Eagles rank tied (with the Cardinals) for the second most takeaways in the NFL. They're an opportunistic bunch. The Eagles as a whole are really a high variance team, which gives them upset potential.
The key, as I explained earlier, is the Eagles relying on another big game from Cox and the pass rush. The New England Patriots got too one dimensional against the Eagles when they abandoned their run game and started relying heavily on moving the ball through the air. This allowed the pass rush to tee off on Tom Brady. If Arizona doesn't strike a balance on offense, it could give the Eagles a similar opportunity.
The Eagles and Cardinals have played some really good games the past two years. It's almost like Arizona never left the NFC East. I think this is bound to be another one of those games where it's back and forth and goes down to the wire. The Cardinals are the superior team, however, so I'm more willing to bet on them to win.
Cardinals 30, Eagles 26